OLDS — After a run to the Alberta Junior Hockey League semifinals last season coach Kevin Hasselberg would have like to just reload and make another run at the Enerflex Cup — but that’s not how life goes in the AJHL.
With three players still at Western Hockey League tryouts — Matt Marantz has signed with the Spokane Chiefs, Neil Tarnasky with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Ben Wilson with the Calgary Hitmen — and others off to the NCAA ranks — like leading scorer Brance Orban — the Grizzlys have familiar feel to them.
“It’s very similar to how we started (last year) — it’s a very young roster and there are a lot of unknowns at this point. We’re going to have to go through some growing pains, as we did last year, with the goal in mind that when playoffs do come around that we will be firing on all cylinders,“ said Hasselberg, who accepts the challenge of rebuilding on the fly. “If you’re doing your job and players are advancing to the next level, that’s what it’s all about.”
But the Grizzlys are not completely devoid of star power, the foundation is in place to allow for that rebuild to happen.
Everything with Olds this year starts between the pipes where former Red Deer Midget AAA Optimist Rebel Marc Boulanger is entering his third campaign with the club.
“There’s going to be a lot of expectations put on Marc by himself, and with his ability and receiving a scholarship to the NCAA next year (University of Massacheusets-Lowell) he’s going to be one of the highly touted goaltenders in the Alberta Junior Hockey League,” said Hasselberg.
He will be the backbone of the club and give his younger teammates the confidence to play.
“We do have to start from the ground up rebuilding our back end,” said the coach. “We have some real good quality players, but when you’re playing with 92’s and first year defencemen in the league, if you can get that save when a mistake is made it’s really going to take the pressure off those kids.”
Boulanger will not be on his own. He will share the crease with back up Brayden Hopfe of Didsbury who will do his best to push the incumbent.
At the forefront of the team is Corey Campbell who is also entering his third season. Despite being just five-foot-six and 145 pounds, he plays with a much bigger bite. In 61 games last year he had just 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points, but he added 159 penalty minutes.
The 20-year-old from Olds should set the tempo for the rest of the club.
“He’s expected to be the captain. He is expected to lead the charge in all categories — offensively and defensively. He will do more than just his part on the ice, he will do his part off it as well,” said Hasselberg.
Following in a similar mold will be Castor’s Sean Neumeir who had 124 penalty minutes and just 26 points in 50 games last year.
“He should be a horse,” said Hasselberg. “It’s his third year in the league. He has tons of energy and he really gets under peoples’s skin and he should provide lots of offence for us this year.”
Meanwhile Jordan Kwas (19g, 33a, 52p) and Mitchell Maxwell (13g, 42a, 55p) will be expected to carry the offensive load.
The biggest wild card up front is import Matt Tinordi who rededicated himself to the game over the summer and has the potential to blossom into a front-line player after scoring just five goals and five assists in 26 games last year.
Defence is the Grizzlys biggest area of concern, however they still have a couple returning of returning players on the back end mixed with a lot of potential.
Frank Carbonaro will lead the blue-line corps after a big increase in production after coming over from St. Albert at the mid-way point last year — he had seven points in 28 games before the trade and 20 points in the final 30 after his move down Highway 2.
Carbonaro is joined and Corbin Karl and Brendon Algeo as the only rearguards with any real AJHL experience
Big things are expected of hulking Olds native Craig Ganz who is one of the Grizzlys’ tallest players. He’s played four games with the club over the last two seasons and will have a much larger role this year.
“For a six-foot-four mobile player, as he is, we’re going to throw him into the fire and let him learn from his mistakes and grow into a better player because of it,” said Hasselberg.
The Grizzlys have also added another former Optimist Rebel — Luke Madill — to their defence after being from the Red Deer Rebels WHL camp.
Other Red Deer midget AAA products making a run at the team include forwards Justin Faux and Shaun Rountree as well as Red Deer midget AA grad Jeff Kohute.
The Grizzlys head into their final exhibition game of the preseason tonight carrying a 2-1 record after falling in Okotoks to the Oilers on Thursday 4-1. They host the Oilers tonight at 7:30 p.m. to wrap up what has been a very competitive camp. Their regular season gets under way on Sept. 11 in Canmore against the Eagles.
“The on-ice product has been very good and the camp has been extremely difficult on the coaching staff to make our player selections,” said Hasselberg. “However, it’s been the off-ice where it has been very surprising to us. We put some obstacles in front of them — some challenges — and they’ve responded very well to them. The character we are looking for is certainly in the mix.”